Why Do Saudis Spit On People?

Believe it or not this is an actual question I get asked every once in a while.

Expat nurses often ask me about some strange cultural habits they’ve seen in Saudi Arabia or odd things they don’t understand they saw patients doing. I suppose being married to a Saudi gives me more insight into Saudi culture but don’t get me wrong, I’m no Saudipedia or Saudi culture expert. I do like to correct some common misconceptions however, whenever I can. Especially when people just interpret something completely upside down.

Many of the questions I get asked about Saudis are related to Islam. For example: why do Saudi men constantly fiddle with the prayer beads?

Why do Saudi men chew on sticks? Why do Saudi women splash water all over the bathroom floors? Why do people pray on the floor?

Others are more cultural such as why do some female patients keep their whole head covered with a cloth while the doc examines her “down under”? Why do Saudis throw all the trash on the hospital floors? or why do Saudis cluck their tongues, what does it mean? Why do some women paint their palms of their hands and feet with henna?

There definitely should be some sort of  crash course to Saudi culture before the employees start working with Saudi patients to help them understand one another better. At the hospital I worked at, our orientation program did not include any information on these, and most foreign staff sadly remain very ignorant about the culture and customs.

Back to the question about the “spitting” on people which is one of the most common cultural oddities that nurses can face in their work. First of all, I want to point out that although it does look and sound like the person is in fact spitting on the patient, he is by no means *spitting*. What is happening is actually praying. The person is reciting Quran and kind of “blowing” the words onto the patient. If anyone knows how to explain this better, feel free to leave a comment.

handwritten quran old script riyadh

Muslims believe that reading the Quran on the sick person has healing abilities. In other words the belief is that the actual words of the Quran when recited have healing properties, hence the blowing of the words toward the patient.  Nurses will often witness this behavior with patients.

I’ve known many nurses that have been ‘disgusted’ in their own words by the practice, but they never cared to find out what was going on, just assumed and labeled it as something ‘barbaric and uncivilized’ in their minds which is sadly very common to see here.

Well thankfully some of these confused nurses do want to find out and when they do they are so surprised to hear the truth. While others just like to remain ignorant and poke fun at the Saudis saying, they like to spit on people because they’re so backwards people.

Admittedly, I’ve witnessed some pretty enthusiastic styles of the “prayer blowing”. Saliva has definitely been seen flying around, especially with Bedouin patients. This would of course not be good practice to allow to be done on severely immunocompromised patients. At the end of they day though, this practice is only a sincere attempt to try help cure the patients!

 

For some other strange habits of Bedouin patients check this post: bedouins-as-patients
Read about Saudi women who never remove their veils here: the eternal-veil

 

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Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!
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  • bigstick1February 13, 2012 - 11:47 pm

    Honestly, isn’t this a slippery slope to faith healing which has a tendency of keeping people from seeking proper medical attention and causing death.

    You know I am absolutely not a proponent of this one, as it gives a false sense of security that could in fact result in someone’s death. Then saliva is known to carry certain diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, etc. Don’t you think this should also be a concern to the health of patients? Seriously, it is disgusting.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 14, 2012 - 12:09 am

    Bigstick-I see your point about the health concern. It would definitely be a concern when the patients immune system were compromised such as cancer patients or HIV patients.
    But nobody got HIV or Hepatitis from a few drops of flying saliva lol

    The patients in question are already under medical care so I see no harm in it.
    But of course we see cases where the family has waited WAY TOO LONG to seek medical care, meaning nothing can be done anymore.
    Sometimes they’ve searched for help from traditional healers, tried to pray or do whatever they can to avoid hospital. Then there’s people who just avoid all treatment and don’t really care whatsoever.

    Believe me I have seen all cases in Finland and other countries as well. It’s really a shame when ppl rely on all sorts of natural remedies that can even cause their death like you said.ReplyCancel

  • bigstick1February 14, 2012 - 12:46 am

    I guess my biggest concern is that doctors are giving the impression that the Koran has some sort of healing power. Thereby fostering further beliefs in such superstitition. Thus generating a cascading event amongst those who are already proned to that way of thinking. In other words, if a doctor has belief in it then it must be so therefore I shall depend on the superstitition first before medical intervention.ReplyCancel

  • Abdullah from S ArabiaFebruary 14, 2012 - 2:25 am

    Bigstick1

    Some people benefited from this practice including myself. I do it by myself on myself. I find that as recent as last week.

    There are two words in Arabic تفل TAFLE, and نفث NAFTH, the former with saliva and the latter without. and people should do the latter which is NAFTH.

    In the Quran Sura Alisra 17-82 (And We send down of the Qur’an that which is healing and mercy for the believers,). Some scholars believe it heal the heart and the soul from their illness such as hate and envy etc. However, other scholars argue that it also help in healing the physical illness.

    I think you know exorcism, but it use with demon possessed and I am not sure if it used with sick person. I know some people died in churches while they under exorcism and also children abused by the healers in churches and it is difficult to make it illegal because this will spark religious people because this practice is part and parcial of Christianity, as Jesus the christ believed to do exorcism to mary majdoline.

    Prophet Mohammed Pace be upon him did Ruqya on himself when he was feeling unwell and we imitate him. Also there is abuse among muslim similar to what happen in Churches.

    Ruqya -reading quran on sick person- is not substitute to seeking medical intervention. and People ought to go to doctor and this not against islam.

    There is one hadith has link to this subject and it is exeptional case but it is difficult to me to write and explain in english it take long time and I will but it in arabic I am sorry:

    عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال: (عرضت علي الأمم، فرأيت النبي ومعه الرهط، والنبي ومعه الرجل والرجلان، والنبي وليس معه أحد، إذ رفع لي سواد عظيم فظننت أنهم أمتي، فقيل لي: هذا موسى وقومه، فنظرت فإذا سواد عظيم، فقيل لي: هذه أمتك، ومعهم سبعون ألفاً يدخلون الجنة بغير حساب ولا عذاب. ثم نهض فدخل منزله، فخاض الناس في أولئك، فقال بعضهم: فلعلهم الذين صحبوا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم. وقال بعضهم: فلعلهم الذين ولدوا في الإسلام فلم يشركوا بالله شيئاً، وذكروا أشياء، فخرج عليهم رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فأخبروه فقال: هم الذين لا يسترقون، ولا يكتوون، ولا يتطيرون، وعلى ربهم يتوكلون.ReplyCancel

  • bigstick1February 14, 2012 - 3:09 am

    Abdullah:

    Could you provide me with which hadith this came from and the section. I can easily look it up in english.

    I attempted the translator and although it translated a good deal of it, it also left a lot to be desired.

    The issue of Mary Magdalene is disputed depending on which gospels you want and who you want to believe. Up until 1968 the Roman Catholic Church called her a prostitute it was later decided that she was an apostles an apostle. The Nag Hammadi find really shed light on this. Probably this is more than you wanted to know though.

    Anyway, thank you for the information.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 14, 2012 - 3:45 pm

    Abdullah-Thank you for this additional info!
    My husband’s brother is said to have been cured from cancer as a child by the family reading Quran over him..ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 15, 2012 - 9:13 pm

    hi everybody
    i want to add that we read certain versus which include prayers which indicates that the God is the most powerful and so on , there some verses are known for this purpose,so we believe in the ability of Allah not in the Quran Its-self .ReplyCancel

  • bigstick1February 16, 2012 - 2:33 am

    Abdullah:

    Thank you. I appreciate you looking that up.ReplyCancel

  • Sandy :)February 16, 2012 - 9:55 am

    There is the symbolic spitting over the left shoulder 3 times if one wakes from a nightmare to keep Jinn away. I don’t know if there is anything like that to maybe keep Jinn away from ill people.

    There have been various studies on the link between prayer and healing. Certainly there is a link between the mind and the body. So even if one believes in something untrue it is possible it might have an impact. Of course there is no way to “prove” any of these intangibles- and I would say they should be used to support, not replace medical care. Things like spontaneous remission in cancer can’t be medically explained -but that of course doesn’t prove divine intervention either- so people will have to believe what they like.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 18, 2012 - 3:37 pm

    Sandy-It could be compared to the much studied placebo effect, some people on drug trials get cured even they were on the placebo just because they were convinced they were trying a new miracle medicine. So the power of the mind has been scientifically proven in that sense.ReplyCancel

  • HammadFebruary 19, 2012 - 11:35 am

    Assalam o aliakum,

    Spitting is more of a traditional belief than Islamic, its done against evil eye. Thats nothing very shocking, as its a regional old belief which has nothing to do with Islam. Islam is different than traditions and cultures of middle east.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 21, 2012 - 7:02 pm

    That is the single most disgusting thing you could do to a patient in a hospital setting. My SIl was critically ill in the US , her mom came to be with her and on day1 started the reading koran and spitting, I was horrified, here is an immuno-supressed patient, surgically compromised and spitting like there is no tomorrow. of course it’s her belief but it’s also many others belief that a recovery space is not to be compromised by grerms from your mouth. ugggh that was not a fun talk we had with her. I have no problem with reading the koran or zam zam water or whatever is used to give peae to the patient and cargiver, but absolutely no spitting. I guess it’s an older tradition and nowadays younger people rarely do that. still it was a shock seeing it being done.ReplyCancel

  • blogMarch 26, 2012 - 10:25 am

    First it’s not actually spitting. After reading Quran al Karim one blew the air and the words of Allah al might are blown for health. If there are many muslim scientist researching they may have proved it that after reading the Quran al Karim the air blown to sick person can cure anyone more affectively , more better and speedy recovery then a Jews made tablet. The words of Allah al mighty has more healing power then a Jews made medicine.ReplyCancel

  • Sanortey DikpeteyApril 9, 2016 - 9:33 am

    A lecturer in the University of Education, College of Languages-Ghana, West Africa. Interest in researching into Oral Literature and CultureReplyCancel

  • Sanortey DikpeteyApril 9, 2016 - 9:35 am

    Want to know the socio-lingusitc functions of saliva accross cultures.ReplyCancel

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